From a portrait of modern-day Britain at work to New York in the 1940s, taking in the secret world of Fifa and tales of female friendships, authors, critics and other bookworms tell us which books they will be reading on the beach
Poet, novelist and children’s author
I have just bought Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend , because friends have praised her superb handling of women’s lives and friendships. There are two further novels in the trilogy and so that should take care of the summer’s fiction reading. My nonfiction treat would be Growing Citrus: The Essential Gardener’s Guide by Martin Page (Timber Books £19.99). I have two lemon trees and acalamondin, which produce good-sized, fragrant but oddly shaped fruit, so perhaps there’s more that they need. My classic choice is to search out the Ladybird book What to Look for in Summer, written by EL Grant Watson and illustrated by CF Tunnicliffe. The series is ravishingly illustrated, botanically accurate and evocative of childhood.
Novelist and editor
Like everyone else in Italy I’ll be reading Elena Ferrante; will there be enough copies to go round? I may spend my holiday hanging out in underpasses, offering drugs in exchange for Book Two of the Neapolitan trilogy. During the long waits, by torchlight, I’ll begin Albert Cohen’s Belle du Seigneur (Penguin, £19.99), because everyone says it’s a masterpiece; Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation(Granta £7.99); Ali Smith’s How to be Both (Penguin £8.99), which I’ve been pretending to have read for over a year; and, despite the panic this induces, a carefully rationed selection from my ever-decreasing pile of unread Ruth Rendells.
Journalist and writer
I’ve known what I’ll be reading this summer – in France and Italy – since about March, which tells you a lot about me, if not the books themselves. In fiction, I’m going to get with the programme and read Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friendand Patricia Duncker’s Sophie and the Sibyl (Bloomsbury £16.99), in which, I hear, George Eliot is brought vividly to life. In nonfiction, I am going to read Peter Korn’s memoir of woodworking Why We Make Things and Why it Matters (Square Peg £15). I think it will do my soul some good. My classic: The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett (Vintage £9.99), about two sisters whose lives take radically different courses. I want something really fat and satisfying and provincial and this is it.
Journalist and author
This summer, I’m finally going to start Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series that so many people are raving about, beginning with My Brilliant Friend. One friend was recently so engrossed in the latest volume that she refused to travel in the car with her family on holiday and instead went separately by train so she didn’t have to interrupt her reading, so I want to find out what the fuss is about. Though I should probably have started them last summer when I was staying in the Bay of Naples, for an added sense of place – this year I’ll be on the Île de Ré in France.
I’m also on a mission to reread my way through Ruth Rendell’s Barbara Vine novels. I think the current fascination for domestic noir – psychological thrillers based around family secrets – owes a great deal to her influence and she’s still the best. I’ve just finished A Dark-Adapted Eye (Penguin £8.99) so I’ll be taking the next one, A Fatal Inversion (Penguin £8.99).
Novelist, biographer and critic
I shall read more of mystery woman Elena Ferrante’s Naples novels, having just read the first, My Brilliant Friend, which transports the reader to the Naples I saw on my first visit long ago. I’m also reading Fiona Rintoul’s first novel, The Leipizig Affair (Aurora Metro £8.99), a page-turner that reminds one of the horrors of the cold war and the astonishing fall of the Berlin Wall. And I’ll read another José Saramago – perhaps All the Names (Harvill Secker £8.99), one I’ve missed. I always spend the summer in Somerset and travel in fiction.
Biographer, historian and novelist
I plan to be in Cornwall – in body, that is, at Land’s End, but in spirit I plan to be in the Ardennes, reading Antony Beevor’s new book. I am a tremendous fan of his writing. Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble (Viking £25) is obviously a grim story as the pace of reprisals among the civilian population rises, quite apart from military atrocities (although it can hardly be grimmer than the same author’sBerlin). Nevertheless I shall gaze out from among the Cornish rocks at the rough sea and feel glad I am not living in even rougher times and territory.
For fiction, I am halfway through Elena Ferrante’s amazing compulsive Neapolitan trilogy: that is The Story of a New Name, following on from My Brilliant Friend, with Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay still to come. Ferrante was a recommendation from a book-mad friend for which I am eternally grateful (there are plenty of other books I note happily). The classic: on my way, as it were, to see the new film of Far From the Madding Crowd, I couldn’t resist watching the old version with Julie Christie and Terence Stamp; so I never got there. Now it’s back to source: I’m going to read Hardy’s book again for the first time in 40 years.
I’m retreating to Gladstone’s Library, a wonderfully evocative venue, where one can read, write and sleep in the seductive environs of Gladstone’s own books, to complete my latest novel, Cousins. And thus taking with me Richard Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy (melancholy being a relevant subject) along with the second and third of the Elena Ferrante cycle of novels, which follows the fortunes of a pair of Neapolitan girls as they grow and change. The first, My Brilliant Friend( Editions £11.99), was hugely readable and absorbing.